Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Blowing the Whistle in Fort McMurray

As the KPMG audit of our civic affairs continues and as story after story emerges about salaries, severance and living allowances, one thing keeps coming back to me, particularly after speaking to some former municipal employees. It is a simple act of legislation that might prevent future situations such as the one we find ourselves in, because it empowers the employees who are the heart of our governments to step forward with concerns regarding process or decisions without fear of repercussion. It is, quite simply, whistleblower protection.

Intimidation, whether real or perceived, can be a powerful deterrent to those who would step forward to  express concerns regarding the functioning of their employer's offices, whatever level of government it happens to be. Whistleblower protection has a long history in North America, and while it is not perfect it provides some sense of safety for those who want to express concerns about their organization but who feel that doing so may imperil their job security.

The reality is that when your family relies on your income stepping forward, no matter how dire the situation, can be extremely difficult. If you are employed in an atmosphere that seems even slightly opposed to those who step forward with concerns, or that quashes even concerns expressed internally, the idea of stepping forward publicly in any way is very daunting. The prospect of being disciplined, or worse yet losing your job, is one government employees must weigh before coming forward, and so many continue in silence, caught in an impossible position.

In 2013 the government of Alberta enacted new whistleblower legislation, but this legislation has not been universally adopted by municipal governments. Some criticize this legislation as not being strong enough, but municipalities can adopt the legislation if they wish or they can devise their own. They can strengthen it or tailor it to meet their specific needs, and they can work towards creating an environment of the kind of transparency and accountability so often touted in politics these days but so very rarely achieved.

Whistleblower laws are not perfect, of course, as there can be other forms of subtle intimidation that do not involve demotion and job loss that may still affect an employee's decision to step forward, but it is an added layer of protection for employees who may have concerns that they feel they must express. It is some sense of protection for an employee, and it allows employees to feel that they are not alone should they decide to express those concerns.

This region is known for being a world leader in many regards. Our single-use bag ban, while controversial,  is heralded for being forward-thinking and progressive. We have dozens of examples of technological development in our industry that are innovative and unique, and we are known for being bold and setting our own path.

I would suggest that in the wake of recent events and revelations we have an opportunity to set a new standard for whistleblower protection, devising and enacting world leading employee protection that could become the new model for other governments to follow. While we are currently mired in some chaos and some uncertainty we also have a tremendous opportunity on our doorstep, one which means creating an atmosphere where this never happens again in our region, and where we show others that they can learn from what has happened here and make sure it never happens to them. We can truly become the world leader in accountability and transparency, turning political buzzwords into standard practice.

This is one of my favourite quotes, and one I think is quite apt for our current situation and times in the RMWB. I would suggest we are making history right now. All that remains to be seen, though, is if we are doomed to repeat it.

1 comment:

  1. Theresa, I would find it most valuable to hear what each member of Council and the Mayor think of Whistle Blower Protection. To all members of our current leadership, would you support this initiative?